Whispering of the Autumn Leaves

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Whispering of the Autumn Leaves is the fifth book by C. W. Schultz. It is an epistolary novel told from the perspectives of several different characters, who unwittingly cause or witness events that lead to an impending global war. While the primary genre is medieval-fantasy, the story meshes elements of sci-fi, as well as tongue-in-cheek humor, a whodunit mystery and horror subgenres seen throughout Schultz’s other work.

After six years in the making, Whispering is Schultz’s longest book in length, as well as turnaround time to publication. It was released on Tuesday, September 6, 2022.

Premise

After a series of strange events, the territory of Baromany is in an uproar. Prince Zondro, heir to the throne, has suddenly vanished just days after a strange craft was spotted floating in the sky. A shipwreck in the Frigid Sea has washed up a strange foreigner, Nilly Goamrock, onto the shores of Baromany. Believing these events are all connected, the desperate kingdom turns to a group of outlaws, the Poor Protectors, for help. As the mystery unravels, the Poor Protectors realize that more chaos awaits, unless they risk their lives by defeating the evils that lurk in the haunted Royal Forest. Each criminal finds newfound purpose in their sacrifice through acceptance, self-forgiveness, glory and redemption.

Characters

The Royal Court

ROZENA HOLLIED, Queen of Baromany, called the Spring Queen, aged 35.
FILBER WULFMONT, her husband, Duke of Ibaboro, aged 48.
ZONDRO HOLLIED, their son, Prince of Baromany and heir to the throne, called the Emerald Prince, aged 16.
KRATTZ HOLLIED, cousin of Queen Rozena, colloquially re-ferred to as the Uncle Prince, aged 32.
RAPHI AJED, Ibagrian-born Grand Jake of the Royal Court, aged 31.
DINA YULT-COSSER, Captain of the Emerald Guard, best friend of Queen Rozena, aged 35.
NYLE COSSER, her husband, aged 36.
BORAZENA COSSER, their daughter, aged 14.
RALD DEERHEART, Lieutenant of the Emerald Guard, aged 32.
JOLLA, the queen’s jester, aged about 26.

The Halfelves

AYZA WHUTAN, servant at Iceberg Castle, aged 20.
NILLUM GOAMROCK, her boyfriend, called Nilly, colloquially referred to as the Prince of Nirq, aged 20.
MOONY GOAMROCK, his brother, aged 21.
PRAT GOAMROCK, twin brother of Moony, aged 21.
OTIVE GOAMROCK, their father, called Oti, Warden of Nirq, colloquially referred to as the King of Nirq, aged 50.

The Poor Protectors

“SECOND” KARRODA SABE, called Lady Secondly, acting boss of the Poor Protectors, aged 67.
CAMM SABE, her nephew, crew captain, aged 38.
SHAYTON DRILLVAN, his crew’s leading soldier and captain-in-study, aged 35.
SYKRIS TONESTON, called Morningale, Camm’s cousin-by-marriage, aged 22.
OTIVA TONESTON, called Ota, his mother, aged 35.
LADD ONEDROP, his soldier and best friend, called Lymys, aged 35.
AYRONA CLAWKNIFE, his soldier and childhood friend, aged 35.

The Charioteers

DEVAN BENDYKE, Chariot Emperor, aged 58.
ERNOL BENDYKE, his son, prince and heir to the empire, aged 25.
TEAH BENDYKE, the emperor’s daughter and the prince’s twin-sister, aged 25.
AIDEN ZIMMER, empire courier and Teah’s lover, aged 34.

Other Major Players in the Great War to Come

NEDGE, hexminor acting on the orders of a Keeper and Great Wizard, aged 43.
LEHAN, an otherskin and major contributor to the Guild of Archivists through beastscribes, trapped inside the body of a bird, aged 28.
WORRAH KIDD, called Warkid, victim of the White Mud Ri-ots and friend of Morningale, aged 22.
VEZER AVAN, current leader of the Brown Boots and former Lieutenant of the Emerald Guard, aged 37.
NAMLOCK DIRBY, called the Admiral, a powerful fence-rider who supplies the royal court with his fleet of ships and also funds the Poor Protectors, aged 78.
RYLA BAO, witch of the Royal Forest, age unknown.
THE PSALTERIST and THE SHAWMIST, her warlocks, aged about 38 and 32, respectively.
AVERLY WARB, commoner bent on revenge, aged 40.
BRAND BACHER, Captain of the Windkisser, aged 47.
HANCE LENDRIK, Sheriff of Midton, aged 61.
MO, his pet troll, aged about 12.
BRAUM, his deputy, aged 29.
PALLO ROBURTON, seaman traveling between Denland and Nirq on the Windkisser, aged about 50.
DAGONOUS DOGO, called Dae, a cynocephalus managing the Midton branch of Dogo Inn, aged 33.

Maps

Denland, Baromany

All of the Known World

Synopsis

(Spoiler alert!)
Ernol Bendyke, the son of emperor Devan Bendyke, has disappeared. However, a pile of strange documents are found in his belongings. Aiden, a courier for the Bendykes, confesses to Devan that the compendium of documents are written by inhabitants from the planet Eden (including articles, confessions, diary entries, personal statements, scraps for beastscribing and a thesis), and will explain Ernol’s disappearance and prove his innocence to a crime that the Tribunal has charged him with.

The inhabitants of Eden are unable to cross hemispheres, due to intense heat at its equator. Ernol is in possession of texts written by the inhabitants of the southern hemisphere, called the Known World.

In the Tri-Kingdoms (the southernmost territory of the Known World), halfelf Nilly Goamrock boards a ship called the Stormkisser to sail to Baromany. Nilly keeps this exploration a secret due to travel being a taboo amongst halfelves, caused by a complex history with humans. Ayza, a servant for the Goamrock family and Nilly’s lover, finds his detailed goodbye letter and burns it before anyone else reads it, fearing that his family will disown him if they find out the truth.

In Denregal (the capital of Baromany), a hexmajor (a scholar in magic and wizardry), known as the Keeper, foresees Nilly’s arrival to be the prophesized Winter War. Hoping to intercept this impending disaster, the Keeper sends her minion, Nedge (also a hexmajor), to swim out into the ocean and cause a shipwreck to the Stormkisser. Nedge succeeds in sinking the Stormkisser, but underestimates the strength of halfelves, and Nilly survives.

Against the advice of an apothecary, Nilly tries to streamline his recovery by overindulging on pain-relievers, which he calls “lavender droplets”.

As he tours Denregal, Nilly discovers that the prince of Baromany, Zondro, has been kidnapped, with the accused being a witch, Ryla Bao, and two warlocks, the Psalterist and the Shawmist, who live in the Royal Forest, a vast wooded area claimed to be haunted. Some believe Zondro’s relative, Krattz, is the Shawmist living a double-life.

Dina (Krattz’s lover and the captainess of the queen’s guard) arranges safe passage for Krattz into the region of Wist Vondorian, where Queen Rozena won’t attempt extradition. Due to lack of support in his innocence, Dina is forced to hire a mercenary group, the Poor Protectors, to escort Krattz. Camm and Shayton are assigned to this task, but are intercepted by vengeful peasants who wish to torture Krattz. To spare him a slow death, Camm mercy-kills Krattz. In his dying moments, Krattz whispers something to Camm. In hopes of getting a reward, the vengeful peasants bring Krattz’s body to Queen Rozena, explaining how her cousin perished. Since mercy-kill is a pardonable offense in Baromany, the queen doesn’t pursue Camm with murder charges, which enrages Dina. The Captainess of the Emerald Guard is also threatened by what Krattz whispered to Camm in his dying moments.

Meanwhile, Nilly wanders the streets in hopes of purchasing more lavender droplets, but is robbed by Camm and Shayton’s crew, which includes Morningale, Lymys and Ayrona. Without money and unable to cope with the droplet withdrawals, Nilly robs a currency-exchange, but is caught red-handed and imprisoned. Knowing that he could face a life sentence, Nilly reveals he’s a halfelf and the son of a powerful warden, hoping his status will give him leverage. Dina catches wind of this, and decides to use the robbery as a way to get back at Camm for killing Krattz.

Dina receives warrant from Queen Rozena to arrest Camm for robbing a noble foreigner, a dire offense throughout the Known World. Foreseeing Camm’s importance in the Winter War, the Keeper sends Nedge to warn Morningale of Dina’s charges, but her plans backfire when Camm chooses the Poor Protectors’ reputation over his freedom, and risks his life by trekking into the Royal Forest to kill Ryla Bao and/or save Prince Zondro, expecting this action to redeem the Poor Protectors’ shame and reverse the Queen’s Warrant. When Dina finds this out, she blackmails Nilly into going after him, so that Camm can properly be brought to justice. To ensure Nilly doesn’t become a renegade, Dina’s lieutenant, Rald, volunteers to be the halfelf’s travel companion.

In the Royal Forest, Camm is accompanied by Shayton, Lymys and Ayrona. Nilly and Rald catch up to the four Poor Protectors as they cross paths with a unisaur. Rald opts to let the beast kill the four Poor Protectors; however, Nilly objects, and slaughters the beast. The unisaur’s horn is removed as a gift to Queen Rozena. The Poor Protectors consider themselves in debt to Rald and Nilly, and Camm welcomes them as traveling companions.

The party cross paths with Ernol and Aiden; Camm kills Rald; Shayton and Camm are kidnapped by the Psalterist and the Shawmist; Shayton is sacrificed during a ritual ceremony; Nilly, Lymys and Ayrona slaughter Ryla Bao and the Psalterist, save Camm, and take the Shawmist as prisoner so that he can be given to Dina or the queen as a gift.

Hoping to guide the party into danger, the Shawmist walks them into the Brown Boots, a group of Emerald Guardsman banished for serving the people instead of the queen during a protest-gone-awry (called the White Mud Riots). Desperate to return to civilization, the Brown Boots offer the party escort out of the Royal Forest if they can take credit for the unisaur horn and the Shawmist’s capture, hoping Queen Rozena will forgive them if they present her with these gifts.

Upon their arrival at the castle walls (the Green Dusk Gates), the group is confronted by Dina, who took Morningale hostage when she learned that he knows the whereabouts of Prince Zondro and hopes to ransom the information to the crown. Morningale tries to escape, but accidentally loses his balance from an injured leg received in the White Mud Riots, and plummets over the Green Dusk Gates. Dina gets pulled off, and follows Morningale down the castle walls, inadvertently crushing him to death. Queen Rozena comes to comfort a severely injured Dina, who uses her final ounces of strength to whisper something to the queen.

Seeing the destruction that the Poor Protectors have caused, Lymys and Ayrona convince Morningale’s source of information, Warkid, to reveal Zondro’s whereabouts. Warkid is a beastscribe (someone who can understand animals), and has been in communication with an oddskin-bird (a human trapped inside a bird’s body), Lehan, who has found Zondro locked inside a tower. A rescue party is formed, and they confront Nedge, who is acting as Zondro’s gaoler under orders of the Keeper.

In an attempt to escape the tower, Nedge tries to conjure another storm, which exposes him as the cause of Stormkisser’s shipwreck. While incapacitated from a stab injury he sustained during his battle with Zondro’s rescue party, Nedge confesses that his Keeper is Queen Rozena’s most trusted advisor, Raphi. The motive behind the kidnapping was to hide Zondro from Nilly, avoiding the prophecy of a halfelf killing the prince. Unable to prove Raphi’s intentions to be malicious, Queen Rozena is as lenient as possible, only exiling her from Baromany; however, because Nedge tried to harm Zondro during his desperate escape attempt, the queen can’t be as merciful with him, opting to keep him in the dungeons.

The Shawmist is sentenced to be hanged, but the execution is botched when a bloodthirsty crowd ignites the gallows in hopes of giving him a more painful death. The Shawmist consumes the flames and vanishes. Fearing revenge from the warlock, Camm convinces Queen Rozena to use Poor Protectors as the territory’s official bountymen (crown appointed bounty hunters) to locate and bring the Shawmist back to justice. The survivors of the Royal Forest set out on a new adventure to find the Shawmist.

Back in the Tri-Kingdoms, Ayza learns that Nilly’s father, Oti, believes a crewman named Pallo is involved in Nilly’s disappearance. Since Nilly saved Pallo’s life on the Stormkisser, Pallo refuses to talk and is executed on the warden’s orders, revealing Oti’s plans to wage war on Baromany.

After reading through all the documents in Ernol’s possession, Devan discusses with the Tribunal director, Nyta, the possibility of Ernol being acquitted. It’s revealed that Ernol crossing paths with Camm and Nilly in the Royal Forest is a severe crime, creating a paradox in the Tribunal’s delicate system. If the system’s bug cannot be mended, all of Eden will be destroyed.

Development

Schultz announced a first-person narrative called The Fall of Peacetime in a post on July 8, 2017, describing it as a medieval-fantasy which meshes with the horror subgenres of his previous books, satisfying longtime readers while also expanding to a new audience. The length of the manuscript had fluctuated between 142,000 and 170,000 words, his longest work yet; with Jill in second, at 105,000 words. By June 2022, Schultz had gotten the manuscript down to 140,000 words.

By April 2018, the novel had been re-titled Whispering of the Autumn Leaves.

Schultz posting indicates that a potential publisher had to drop out publishing Whispering due to their other releases being pushed back, a delay that was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sample chapter

On December 30, 2018, a sample chapter and an accompanying video (narrated by Schultz) was released. The date was specifically chosen by Schultz as the 1,209th day since A Book About a Film‘s released, as this time span marked the longest he had ever gone without publishing a novel, and wanted to do something special for his valued readers.

Video – Narrated by C. W. Schultz

Chapter 3The Andles A

A public service article published in the 1231 issue, titled “The Psalterist and the Shawmist”

Monsters have always lurked in the Royal Forest, a vast wooded area crossing into the regions of Denland, Everdirk and Wist Vondorian. It was a story to teach children not to wander far, or help them visualize the unknown evils of the world. Now, however, it appears some of the monsters have emerged from the Royal Forest to kidnap the children.

Within the last few cycles, the amount of missing children has increased. Reports stretch from the Royal Forest’s nearby farmlands like Naidney, all the way into the northern side of Denregal, particularly the Roachill district. Some believe there are hexminors turning children into red-crested jays, the black bird with a flame-red crest. However, these birds aren’t seen nearly as frequently as the rate of disappearing children, thus debunking this theory.

Two men were spotted emerging out of the Royal Forest. One was described as fat and balding, while the other was said to be thin and covered in locks of blond hair. The former cradles the bulky harp instrument of a psaltery; while the other carries the slender flute instrument of a shawm. They’ve been dubbed the Psalterist and the Shawmist. Both tall in stature, their footsteps make for long strides, explaining why witnesses have had difficulty chasing them down when they see a child in their company.

The sound of music can be heard as the Shawmist leads the child back into the Royal Forest’s border of black pine trees, which are so tall, they reach into the clouds on a rainy day. The Psalterist waddles behind his partner-in-crime and their young captive, ensuring the child doesn’t escape the musical trance.

Days later, the child is found in the farmlands, identified only by the clothes he or she was last seen wearing. All that is left is a dry skeleton, as if the child had been dead for decades. Skin and all organs are completely gone, and the bone is as clean as polished ivory.

People believe a witch lives in the Royal Forest, and they named her Ryla Bao. The name comes from the Mirean language the villagers in Naidney use, which is directly translated to Evil-Eyed Lady; “ryl-” meaning “eye”, “-a” meaning feminine, and “bao” meaning “evil”. They say she’s centuries old, and uses black magic to allow the children’s skin and organs to prolong her youth. The younger the child is, the longer it takes her to age again. The Psalterist and the Shawmist are her warlocks, commanded to retrieve her sacrifices.

Many expeditions have been organized in an attempt to save children seen leaving with the warlocks. However, these same expeditions are usually soon abandoned, with the child’s skeleton always turning up days later. While in the Royal Forest, people who have survived the expedition claim to experience spirits speaking to them, as well as strange disorientations that causes nausea and euphoria at the same time. These disorientations greatly affect the sense of direction, resulting in parties traveling in complete circles; as well as a sense of time being paralyzed, with nights seeming to last as quickly as a few minutes or as long as several days. Beasts in the Royal Forest also show signs of ravenousness, with bears, unisaurs and wolves oft attacking and killing members of the search party. The probability of being attacked by an exceptionally aggressive beast has led many to conclude that entry to the Royal Forest is equal to certain death. When King Three of Johnamas Hollied introduced the punishment of Banishment to the Royal Forest back in 978, he had heard the stories of these aggressive animals. Now, with a witch and two warlocks emerging from the haunted woods, the probability of survival lessens and the punishment of Banishment to the Royal Forest is ever crueler.

Because the child’s body usually turns up in the farmlands while the expedition is still in place, horrific bewilderment arises by how the body is discarded without the Psalterist and the Shawmist’s reemergence being noticed. Theories have included an invisibility spell, teleportation or that the children are being led into the Royal Forest and exited through a different path as a diversion. If the entrance to the Royal Forest is just an elaborate distraction, there are plenty of barns and small castles between Naidney and Denregal that the children can be easily taken to. In other words, the Psalterist and the Shawmist might not be just warlocks, they could your neighbor.

International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs)

• ISBN 979-8-8356-2868-1 (paperback, 2022)
• ISBN 979-8-8323-9362-9 (hardcover, 2022)

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